Lowry, a longtime member of the Kellogg Dean’s Advisory Board who has worked in the financial industry for 52 years, applauded both men for broadening the scope of what black business leaders could accomplish.
“When your father and I were leaders, we were leaders [in that] they let us come to the table,” Lowry said speaking to McKeever. “You guys are making the table.”
Both CEOs shared tips for success. McKeever spoke on how his parents’ educational values motivated him to excel and how he followed his passion for music despite his father’s initial disapproval. Reynolds reminded the audience that traditional values such as helping others are still necessary for success in a competitive business environment.
“What I quickly learned was that certainly to be good at what you did was important,” Reynolds said, “but to have relationships with the folks that could get you hired was just as important.”
When Lowry raised the issue that many minority business-owners are reluctant to form strategic partnerships with other businesses, both McKeever and Reynolds said such an attitude stifles productivity.
Earlier in the day, Robin C. Brooks '79 explained how she and her spouse fulfilled their dream of creating a minority-owned enterprise that was capable of growth. Brooks is chairman and CEO of Brooks Food Group, Inc., a food processing company that produces poultry and breaded products for restaurants such as Wendy's and Burger King. Shortly after she and her husband Frank opened their second facility in 1999, Frank died of colon cancer.
"We wanted to be an example for the industry, so when Frank passed, what really struck me was I couldn't really change the circumstances that occurred but my response was what mattered."
Brooks said she felt her relationship with suppliers, which were concentrated in the South, and customers was hurt by her being an African-American woman from the North — so she hired an older white man with experience in poultry to serve as president of the company.
Looking back, Brooks gave this advice for handling other people's perceptions: "If you really allow others to define you, you can never be exactly what you want to be," she said. "I think it's important that you know who you want to be, and you speak up for you yourself."
Speakers echoed a similar theme at the media panel, which was moderated by Medill Professor Charles Whitaker. The discussion featured Heidi Barker, senior director of corporate relations for McDonalds Corporation; Bernard Bell, senior vice president of the Office of the President for TV One; Jacque Cofer, CEO of Natcho Movie Productions; and Steve Pamon, senior vice president of marketing and strategy partnerships at HBO.
Barker told attendees they have to get a seat at the table where decisions are made. “You have to be there," she said. "In a way, you are representing the voices that aren't heard."
Some of those voices may be in the classroom — which is a where business professionals can truly leave a legacy, said Tim King, founder and CEO of Urban Prep Charter School for Young Men. He was part of an education panel that included April Ervin, executive director of the New Leaders for New Schools Chicago program, and Maurice Woods ‘99, deputy CIO for Chicago Public Schools Office of Technology Services.
Each panelist challenged Kellogg students to leverage their business background in the educational field. For example, Ervin said, executives can mentor principals by teaching them management and creative skills.
When a Kellogg student questioned the value of using a business degree for a career in education, King acknowledged that the financial incentives are not the same as working in a corporate position, but said there was still a huge payoff.
"I don't think it's any different from any of you might consider going into a family business or starting a business on your own," King said. "But you have the opportunity to put the skills that you have learned to the test — and also to change the world"
Moderator Professor Carol Lee was more direct: "You stand on the shoulders of people who have paid a very high price so you could be here, so you could raise the very same questions that you raise," Lee said. "You represent a very special generation of young people, unprecedented in the world. If you are not figuring out ways to create wealth in the black community, then it seems to me that you are spitting on your ancestors."
Following the forum on education, the “Global Entrepreneurship Panel,” moderated by Michele Rogers, Kellogg assistant dean and co-director of student affairs, focused on the opportunities for investment in Africa. Panelists Gregory Marchand, founder and managing director of Zambia-based Gizmos LLC; Isi Joan Okogun ’01, investment analyst at GE Asset Management; and Nicholas Okoye, executive director of operations at Transcorp Nigeria, suggested ways to tap the vitality of Africa’s re-developing economies.
Speakers noted that there is still a stigma attached to Africa because some of the continent’s economies are under-developed. But Okogun said, “The opportunities in Africa are mind-boggling, across the board, not just in Nigeria.”
The key to success in a foreign business environment, she said, is to partner with local players.
Marchand, a graduate of Morehouse College, said he first became aware of the opportunities during a trip to Africa. While still employed at Deloitte Consulting LLC, he drafted a business plan and decided to invest in Zambia.
“You go where there is nothing, and you build. America was built and we helped build it, but are we reaping the profits?” Marchand asked. “Maybe we need to adopt an immigrant mentality.”
Another panel, moderated by Cheryl Mayberry McKissack ’89, president and CEO of Nia Enterprises, took a look at opportunities closer to home. “Real Estate: Personal and Community Wealth Creation” addressed the reasons why African-Americans and other minorities are not fully capitalizing on real estate investment opportunities in urban communities, and how this trend could change. Participants included Darrell Jackson ’00, president and CEO of Northern Trust, West Region; Bo Menkiti, founder of the Menkiti Group, and James Simmons III ’96, partner at Apollo Real Estate Advisors.
The BMA Conference is among the Kellogg School’s largest student-led initiatives. It kicked off Friday with an alumni golf outing and culminated with a networking reception that evening. On Saturday, after a daylong program featuring panel discussions and speakers, conference participants enjoyed the 20th Anniversary Gala at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago. Hosted by Cheryle Jackson, CEO of the Chicago Urban League, the gala featured James A. Bell, executive vice president of finance and CFO of the Boeing Company, who delivered the keynote address. The event concluded Sunday with a Gospel Brunch at the Allen Center.
Hours after the conference chairs greeted participants Saturday morning with the idea of leaving a legacy, Marchand provided fitting exclamation at the end of the day.
“I think we’re more powerful than we ever thought we were,” he said. “We need to start accessing that power.” His words echoed across the Allen Center’s Tribune Auditorium.